Story by Jody Robbins, Dan Pigat and Adrian Brijbassi
CALGARY, ALBERTA — This is a tale of two cities, both gripped by hockey fever, yet sporting different symptoms. On the ice, the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks battle it out in the National Hockey League’s best-of-seven Pacific Division semi-finals. Off the ice, this fever has spread through the cities, but the disease is felt differently in each.
You can’t hide from the playoffs in Calgary. Citizens erupt in bright red each and every game day, or at least their shirts do. It’s been six-years since Calgary last caught this virus and its citizens aren’t waiting for a cure.
In Vancouver, you know they have the disease, but it’s harder to spot … expect the disease to become more visible if the Canucks are able to pull a win or two out of their hat.
Tonight, with the Flames holding down a commanding 3-1 lead in the best of seven series, game five will be played in Vancouver at 10 pm EST. Here’s a breakdown of the playoffs in each of these fine cities.
Calgary: Let’s be honest, the Flames didn’t draft their way to the playoffs (lot of good that did you, Edmonton). There is no secret sauce, but rather a cohesive team who dropped their egos and came together for a playoff push. Young and unproven with boundless energy, the ice is dominated by the new kids on the block: John Gaudreau AKA Johnny Hockey and Michael Ferland, plus Sean Monahan, and Sam Bennett – all under 25-years-old. These boys may be young, but they’re successfully playing old time hockey.
Vancouver: The Canucks are a more established, seasoned team. They’re older, wiser and some might say they’re currently playing like it. While the Swedish Sedin twins are something special to watch, they can’t carry an entire team and need the assistance of a strong supporting cast. “It seems as though the Canucks are struggling with their identity a little bit,” admits Canucks fan John McAdam. This goes right to the crease – it’s not a good sign when you have to guess which goalie will be between the pipes every game.
Calgary: Not many expected the Flames to make the playoffs. Not the fans and certainly not the analysts. Expectations are much lower in easily excitably Calgary, a city that lights up the Calgary Tower when they make the playoffs, let alone win a series.
“We were predicted to come in last and we rose above it. To see the Flames rise has gotten more and more exciting. All of a sudden we made it. Looking back at what these young guys have done, you see how extraordinary it is,” says Flames fan Bobbi Pavao.
So elated are fans after winning any playoff game, they parade down 17th Avenue AKA the Red Mile. While it could turn into an unruly mob situation, few laws are broken: a little littering here, some public nudity over there and open alcohol everywhere. Compare that to Vancouver when they trash the place if they don’t win the Stanley Cup. Calgary knows how to party respectably. After all, they’ve had over a hundred years of practice with the Calgary Stampede.
Vancouver: It’s a pressure cooker in Vancouver, and it has been for awhile now. This is a team that made it to the Stanley Cup finals in 2011 only to lose to Boston (and then lose again with the riots). Unlike the Flames, Vancouver is a team that’s built to win and is expected to do so. While playoff hockey is high pressure for any team, it’s much worse for the Canucks than the Flames this year. Flames head coach Bob Hartley was only too happy to heap even more of that pressure on the Canucks.
“They’re favourites in all departments,” said Hartley in a Global News interview. “We feel just lucky to be here, but at the same time, we’re not backing off from any challenges. That’s in our DNA. We know we’re facing a team with basically no weaknesses.”
Calgary: Say what you will about Cowtown, this is a city that shows its spirit. Tens of thousands of little Flames flags affixed to cars might drag down fuel economy, but they contribute to the over all energy, not to mention the city’s main downtown economy. Even city buses have joined in on the action posting “Go Flames Go” on their dashboard. “The city’s just electric. It comes alive again!” raves local Domenico Belcastro.
Vancouver: Not good, folks. Calgary was supposed to be tough, but nobody expected to be dominated like this. Vancouver fans can be a bit fickle and down three games to one, there’s hopes that the boys can pull this game out. A lot of empty seats in Vancouver for the first two games against Calgary which is interesting, because those seats were sold out for the regular season. Maybe it’s a cost thing. Maybe the city isn’t optimistic about their chances against Calgary. None of this is to suggest that the Canucks don’t love their team, but it’s apparent they aren’t thrilled with the way they’re playing.
Crowd At The Game
Calgary: The atmosphere during this week’s home games was just as electric as it was when the Flames were in the final round of the playoffs in 2004. “It feels more like we’re in Round 4 than Round 1,” said Ken King, President and CEO of the Calgary Flames on CBC radio after the Flames took game four in a 3-1 win on Tuesday night. Crowds of 20,000 reach a feverous pitch inside the Saddledome and it’s expected to get more deafening should the team make it to round two.
Pre-game, crowds up to 4,000 participate in the Tailgate party held in front of the dome. Even those without a ticket wander down to check out the festivities that saw Flames alumni Lanny McDonald and Jim Peplinski signing autographs, performances by the Cowtown Opera, stilt walkers, children’s programing and beer tents.
Vancouver: There are passionate fans in Vancouver, too! Before the game you’ll spot loads of people downtown with their jersey’s on. A testament to the city’s dazzling diversity, you’ll find more multi-cultural fans in the greater Vancouver area than in waspy YYC. And maybe it’s because they’re sitting on the coast, Vancouver fans have mastered the wave, something Calgarians have trouble implementing. But like their on-ice identity crisis, their fans need a bit more unity and enthusiasm if they’re going to comeback again from trailing 3-1 (Vancouver holds the record at doing it three times before). In short, they could use the return of A Few Green Men.
Calgary: The “C of red” is apparent at all Flames games, not just during the playoffs. Whether you’re going to the rink or a boardroom meeting, Calgarians look out of place if they’re not sporting a Flames Jersey on game day. Think: red or dead.
Vancouver: Most fans sport the team colours blue or white, though during playoffs, white is what’s worn. White towels are handed out for fans to wave and when it’s not playoff time, you’re apt to see a few odd folks near the penalty box break out in green. Think: white is right.
Calgary: Harvey the Hound was a “first pound draft pick” by the Flames in 1983, making him the NHL’s very first mascot. At 6’6″ and 200 lbs, this dog’s got an enormous appetite and is particularly fond of sushi. Forewarned is forearmed, Fin the Whale!
Vancouver: Whatever you do, don’t call this killer whale “sharkie!” If you want a shark, head to San Jose. Fin the Whale is a respectable mammal often seen beating his First Nations drum inside Rogers Arena. Bonus: Nobody’s ever pulled out Fin the Whale’s tongue, unlike Harvey the Hound who had his ripped by an annoyed Craig MacTavish when he was the Edmonton Oliers coach.
Calgary: So far, youth and enthusiasm are winning both on and off the ice.
Vancouver: The Canucks have the experience to turn things around. If they win at home tonight…look out – this city will really take notice.
If the team doesn’t make it…
Calgary: Should Calgary not make it into round two of the playoffs, we’ll dust ourselves off and get back on that horse. No, not a hockey horse, a real one that’s found at the Calgary Stampede. The greatest outdoor show on earth is the world’s most famous outdoor rodeo. Calgary welcomes thousands of tourists to this outdoor spectacular July 3-12, 2015. Giddy up!
Vancouver: Been there, done that. Should Vancouver not make it into round two of the playoffs it will be a hard pill to swallow – especially if we are put out by the Flames. But we’ll always have the mountains, beautiful forests and the mighty Pacific. There’s also the Vancouver International Jazz Festival (late June) and Film Festival (late Sept-mid Oct). Another great draw is MusicFest Vancouver (various venues, first 2wks Aug). So if tonight is the night the Canucks’ season ends, I can guarantee we won’t be singing a sad song for long.